Spousal support laws attempt to prevent a divorced spouse from experiencing an abrupt and substantial decrease in his or her standard of living as a result of the divorce. Sometimes one spouse has a distinct disadvantage because of having been out of the work force during the marriage. In these cases, a spouse may need time and money to be retrained and then to reenter the workforce at a higher level then what was possible during the marriage. The goal is to set-up financial parity between the spouses during this time of transition.
To this end, the judge will often order one spouse to support the other during the lawsuit, and may also require that spouse to pay the other's legal expenses until the formal proceedings have concluded. And at the end of the lawsuit, the court might order one spouse to support the other well into the future.
Most couples, working with their respective lawyers, try to come to some agreement as to how the property will be divided and how much support one will pay the other and for how long. If the parties can't agree, the court will decide the issues of property division, child custody, and spousal support on its own.
State law governs the rules in family law court. This means that spousal support laws and the processes that enforce them can vary substantially between states, especially if they are operating under different property law systems. This is especially true between states that follow common law practices of joint property ownership verses states that follow community property law practices.
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